- The Washington Times - Friday, September 29, 2006

Look at director Andrew Davis’ (“Holes,” “The Fugitive”) latest offering, “The Guardian,” and it appears he might’ve used the old brides-to-be formula: something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue.

Sufficiently stoic veteran actor Kevin Costner is the most obvious “something old.” He stars as Ben Randall, the emotionally wounded Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer all-star who gets stuck training a bunch of know-nothing cadets at “A” School after a particularly rough night at sea. Costner fills this role as well as he fills the body-skimming T-shirts he dons in the flick; he’s a pro, after all.

Adorable whippersnapper Ashton Kutcher is, then, “something new.” Ok, so maybe he’s not known for his dramatic work — in fact, he’s most remembered for his zany role on “That 70’s Show” and prankster antics on “Punk’d.” Nevertheless, in “The Guardian,” he’s been cast as Jake Fischer, a cocky youngster determined to break records and save lives as a Rescue Swimmer.

Kutcher gets credit for effort (and for providing ladies with some eye candy — you go, Demi!), but his character’s first appearance, in which his Ray-Bans and smugness are meant to convey hardness, elicited laughs at a preview screening. This suggests that the character isn’t the only one trying too hard to fill shoes that don’t quite fit yet.

Audiences will find “something borrowed” — or at least something informed by existing movies — throughout the 135-minute film. It’s a “Top Gun” meets “The Perfect Storm” story. Lots of testosterone, over-the-top effects, stock female characters thrown in for good measure (and nothing else), and lines like: “You can’t always be the one in the water,” and “Gettin’ old ain’t bad, man.”

The something blue is where “The Guardian” redeems itself: the tireless, indiscriminate ocean. Stop for just a moment while Randall and Fischer are butting heads — don’t worry, Fischer won’t actually get kicked out of “A” School, but you already know that. Stop and ponder what this film really wants viewers to ponder: what kind of sacrifices the Coast Guard, particularly Rescue Swimmers, take daily to save lives.

Forget the lukewarm love stories involving one-dimensional characters and the interpersonal conflicts cum male bonding; the film’s highlights come in the classroom training videos and secondarily in some of the protagonist’s harried saves. In these moments, the film succeeds in illuminating the experiences of a silent elite who recently stepped into the real-life spotlight: during Hurricane Katrina.

“The Guardian” was, in fact, slated for production before the New Orleans disaster, yet the tragedy intensified the crew’s commitment to honor this unique military branch. And lucky for Davis and gang, nature staged its own publicity campaign, which has no doubt boosted the film’s intrigue.

This bride-to-be — err, flick has plenty of weights on both sides of the scale. At this point, whether “The Guardian” will sink or swim at the box office hangs in the hands of audiences.

**

TITLE: “The Guardian”

RATING: PG-13 - Perilous scenes, mild violence and mature themes.

CREDITS: Directed by Andrew Davis. Written by Ron L. Brinkerhoff.

RUNNING TIME: 135 minutes

WEB SITE: www.guardianmovie.com

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